The face of Newman University athletics.
It might be hard to picture exactly, but ask any Wichitan and a familiar image starts to take shape.
It’s a man with short, spiky, slicked back hair that’s graying. Glasses sit on the brim of his nose, leading up to blue eyes that are simultaneously piercing and welcoming. His bellowing voice is easy to recognize, even when it’s hoarse after a game.
The man is Mark Potter, Newman’s head men’s basketball coach for the past 19 years.
Potter, who will coach his last game at Newman on Potter Family Court at 3 p.m. Saturday, has been coaching basketball for more than 30 years.
He announced his retirement in early December, saying his decision stemmed from health issues related to his high blood pressure.
Originally from Sedan, Potter got his first coaching job at Cheney High School, where he coached for five years. He spent another five at Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School and one more at Wichita South High School before starting his collegiate coaching career at Newman in 1998.
During his nearly two decades at Newman, Potter racked up a 330-221 overall record, tallying more than three times as many wins as any other coach in program history. He’s had three NAIA national tournament appearances and one NCAA national tournament appearance as well as 14 winning seasons. He also was selected as conference coach of the year three times.
Potter has the most victories and highest winning percentage in the program’s history, a key reason the court was dedicated to him and his family in 2013.
However, Potter is more than a coach. To Newman, he is a teacher, a spokesman, a counselor, a friend and a legacy.
“I could talk to you for hours about Mark Potter and the things that he means to me,” said Athletic Director Vic Trilli.
Trilli, who’s worked alongside Potter in the athletic department for nine years, said he immediately clicked with the longtime coach.
“He and I are alike, with our passion and energy, so that made it easy for us to connect,” he said.
Almost a decade later, after the university made the switch from NAIA to NCAA Division II, Trilli said his relationship with Potter never stopped growing.
“He’s become like a brother to me,” he said. “He’s just a great man and somebody I really enjoy being around.”
Trilli said he relied on Potter heavily in his first year at Newman and again during the switch to NCAA nine seasons ago.
Though their relationship was work-oriented, Trilli said he’s going to miss the camaraderie the two shared.
“We joke at each other and both of us laugh hard,” Trilli said.
RJ Allen, assistant men’s basketball coach, said this lighthearted side to Potter is something he’ll miss, too.
“We really have a good time,” Allen said. “Every day during the basketball season, we’re going to work. But him and I, we really get along after the season and we just shoot the breeze and chit chat. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss that the most.”
Allen, who’s coached six seasons with Potter, said the head coach’s ability to connect with players has been fascinating to experience.
“I’ve never seen this amount of former players come back, come by the office and come to practice,” Allen said. “It’s really unique to have former players stay connected like they have. There was a truly a bond built, you can tell. They feel like they’re family.”
Both Trilli and Allen agreed Potter’s personality is dominated by his intensity and passion.
Trilli recalls players coming into his office, concerned that Potter was going to injure himself at practice because he was taking charges from his players on the block. Allen, stifling a laugh, said he was told to not let him do that when he started on the staff.
“Some players, freshman or JUCO transfers, might see it as over the top or crazy,” Allen said. “Once they see the effort and the amount of time he puts into his craft, they kind of put two and two together. This isn’t craziness. This is passion.”
That passion bleeds through into all aspects of Potter’s life at Newman.
Sarah Peterson, junior president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said Potter helped to get the word out about the club when she started it three years ago.
Potter and his wife, Nanette, have come to speak with FCA twice since then.
Though the speaking events were successful, Peterson said Potter doesn’t have to go out of his way to motivate students.
“He shows it out on the court, his passion,” she said. “He is a really good example, as a coach. He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.”
Easton Julian, a 2016 graduate, played four years under Potter. He said Potter lives every minute to the fullest.
“Anyone who saw him coach saw the love and passion he put into every game, every quarter, every possession,” Julian said.
“Come tip-off, you knew every game that Coach Potter was, without a doubt, the most prepared man in that gym,” he said.
Aside from basketball, Julian said Potter instilled in him life lessons he will never forget. One semester, when Julian was struggling with issues in his family, he said. Potter called him in every week for a month to talk about it.
“He taught me that some things are always going to be more important, and his compassion over this time is something I will never forget,” he said.
Mark Potter, a man who wears many hats, can’t really be defined, Allen said.
Over the years, Allen said, Potter has influenced him to become a better person. That, he said, is what Potter is all about.
“I’ve learned how to treat people, how to be genuine and have great character because of him,” Allen said. “And I’ve got to see someone instill that in a program.”
This story first appeared in the February 23rd, 2017 issue of The Vantage